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Physics professor honoured for outstanding teaching

Professor James Fraser

James Fraser takes great pride in finding new and engaging ways to lead his first year physics students to new discoveries. In fact, he describes the “a-ha!” moments his students have as being among the most rewarding things he gets to experience.

Dr. Fraser, an associate professor in the Department of Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy, is the 2015 recipient of the Chancellor A. Charles Baillie Teaching Award, which recognizes undergraduate, graduate or professional teaching that has had an outstanding influence on the quality of student learning at Queen's. 

“Dr. Fraser brings an inspiring, creative energy to the profession of teaching and a remarkable spirit of innovation,” says Jill Scott, Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning). “This has produced an exceptional learning environment in his classes and I am thrilled to see such a deserving recipient honoured with this award.”

One example of Dr. Fraser’s positive influence on learning is a restructuring of a first-year physics course that will see students mentored by the same learning facilitator, or teaching assistant, throughout the entire year and across lecture, tutorial, and lab components. Dr. Fraser is making the change to allow facilitators to better become mentors for their students to improve learning outcomes.

Professor Fraser encouraging collaborative learning.

Dr. Fraser is also a proponent of the flipped-classroom model, where students are responsible for collecting content, so that during class they can work together to assimilate it and teach one another in engaging ways. He has also used peer instruction in undergraduate classes to great success.

He describes the award as an affirmation of what he and his team of teaching assistants are trying to accomplish.

“When our students are able to take different pieces of information from different places and put them together, they end up returning it back to me as an exploration,” he says. “Our students can often struggle when they are deeply engaged by a topic, but they consistently work hard to make sense of the information. Seeing the light bulbs go on gives me tremendous satisfaction.”

Though a tremendous personal accomplishment, Dr. Fraser is quick to point out that he views the award as belonging to his team of educators and his students. Describing his students and teaching team as “superb”, Dr. Fraser cites their willingness to try new things and buy in to different strategies and projects, which often depart from traditional classroom models, as being a key ingredient.

“When I look at past recipients, I’m looking at real innovators who’ve had a real impact on teaching,” he says. “It provides me with an appreciation of what we’re able to do as teachers and also what more we can accomplish moving forward.”

Dr. Fraser is excited to take all he’s learned this past year and keep on improving his craft. Though he’s found great success, Dr. Fraser is excited to continue to push the boundaries and try new things by engaging his Teaching Assistants in the planning process and striving for great course cohesion.

The Chancellor A. Charles Baillie Teaching Award is presented annually at Fall Convocation. It is awarded annually for activities that lead to improved learning, including curriculum development, educational leadership, design and delivery of out-of-classroom educational experiences, or classroom teaching and supervision. All full-time and part-time faculty members are eligible for this award. You can read more about the Baillie Teaching Award and its eligibility requirements here.